Issues in chief

Cops in Riverside questioned as Pasadena welcomes its first Latino chief

By Andre Coleman, Andy Lee, and Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 6/17/2010

City Manager Michael Beck on Tuesday introduced Pasadena’s next police chief, Phil Sanchez, a deputy chief in Santa Monica chosen from a field of three final candidates that included Interim Pasadena Chief Chris Vicino, whose professional future remains unclear after nearly 25 years with the local department.
Vicino was not among the roughly dozen police officials on hand at City Hall to welcome Pasadena’s first Latino chief, an event attended by about 60 residents and officials, including Mayor Bill Bogaard and Council members Jacque Robinson and Margaret McAustin. 
“Pasadena is a city that has some of the best practices in law enforcement,” said the 53-year-old Sanchez, who will start his new job on July 12. “The level of engagement from the community is very high. The citizens are involved and informed. In order to prevent violence, we need to work together. I can’t do it by myself. It needs to be a collective effort.”
“Phil Sanchez has a strong background in police management and a reputation as a leader who is sensitive to community issues,” said Beck. “I am confident he will be well-received in the Pasadena community and the Pasadena Police Department.”
Few — including Bogaard and other Pasadena officials — were aware of stories that appeared the last week in the Riverside Press-Enterprise about the police department in that city, where Beck served as assistant city manager before coming to Pasadena in 2008. Based on deposition testimony of former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach in relation to a federal lawsuit filed by two former officers over alleged unfair labor practices, the newspaper reported that Riverside City Manager Brad Hudson and Assistant City Manager Tom DiSantis were both improperly given firearms by police in 2005. 
Leach, who recently retired after coming under investigation for alleged drunk driving, also said officials — including Beck — had been granted the use of “cold plates,” or untraceable placards for their city-owned vehicles.
The state Attorney General’s Office found in 2007 that the use of the cold plates and the transactions with the guns were improper, but not illegal. The guns were returned and then purchased through a police sergeant, according to the reports. The Attorney General’s Office also found that the use of badges similar to those carried by police and ordered by the city for Hudson, DiSantis and Beck could be deceptive and possibly illegal. 
Beck did not purchase a weapon from the department and did not use one of the badges, which were never distributed. He did, however, drive a car outfitted with the cold plates until being told to stop, the paper reported. 
Beck said the cold-plating of the car was done by Leach after Beck was issued the vehicle. A police radio was also installed at that time.
“I got one of the cars because it had a police radio and I liked to know what was going on,” Beck said. “That was mainly the reason.”
No Pasadena officials, other than police, are driving cold-plated vehicles, Beck said.
Before the press conference, Sanchez spoke about the recent shootings in Northwest Pasadena — six since March, including two homicides. 
“We need to create jobs for our youth because hopelessness is tied to violence. In my first six months I will be doing a lot of listening and learning,” Sanchez said.
“[Sanchez] seems very approachable and a welcoming type of individual,” said community activist Ishmael Trone. “He picks his words well and it seems like he’s in tune with the issues of the community. He’s ready to listen and understands the relationships that need to be addressed, such as gang problems, education and leadership.”
Sanchez, who is considered a use-of-force expert, has worked for the Santa Monica Police Department for 26 years. He and his wife, Deborah, have four children and three grandchildren and currently live in Orange County. 
“The ACLU has a long standing agenda in terms of the relationship between the Police Department and the community, particularly Northwest Pasadena,” said ACLU spokesman Martin Gordon. “I hope that the new chief hits the ground running, because there are a lot of issues that are ongoing and that need to be addressed. From what we know of him, he seems as if he would like to see more involvement with the community on the part of the Police Department. I hope he engages us in an open dialogue.”
Along with Vicino, Sanchez also beat out Covina Chief Kim Rainey for the position, which was first decided by a secret panel of City Hall insiders selected by Beck to pick a new chief following the departure of former Chief Bernard Melekian, who now heads the US Justice Department’s community policing program. 
Under public pressure, Beck later convened a second panel of citizens to interview the finalists, who were also interviewed in May by City Councilmen Steve Madison, Chris Holden and Terry Tornek. None of those men attended Tuesday’s event. Council members Steve Haderlein and Victor Gordo, the council’s only Latino member, also did not attend the welcoming ceremony for Sanchez.
— Reporters Andy Lee and Justin Chapman contributed to this story